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Testing the Limits of Architectural Representation

The vibrant travelling exhibition Possible Mediums rejects convention to explore weird and wonderful methods of architectural representation

Possible Mediums is a travelling exhibition that presents pieces by more than 20 American designers and academics whose work gleefully flogs conventional architectural representation. There are few drawings and models on display, and the show instead includes a large cubic kite, a stack of cartoonish foam animals, a robot that excretes piles of plastic, and at least one working bagpipe. On the whole, the pieces are more conversant with contemporary art than with the making of buildings.

Displaying an awareness that the exhibition requires a great deal of explanation, lengthy texts have been provided to articulate the terms of engagement for each piece on its own and as part of four broad categories – tactile objects, figural projections, excessive volumes and active models. The project of Possible Mediums is as much pedagogical as it is aesthetic, and these descriptions serve to bring students and confused gallery-goers rapidly up to speed. While some texts are lucid and enlightening, others are unfortunately quite tiresome and laden with jargon.

The influence of many contemporary artists is discernible, among whom Ernesto Neto, Roxy Paine, Olafur Eliasson and Matthew Barney are only the most conspicuous. You could use the word omnivorous (or if you prefer, rapacious) to describe the way these designers have appropriated and inculcated both techniques and effects from mediums outside architecture. Whether or not the research on display has any application to the practice of architecture seems beside the point.

Here is a selection of provocative works from this eclectic survey.

Adam fure

Artifacts by Adam Fure

Adam Fure’s Artifacts consists of 10 fuzzy, metallic cubes of uncertain constitution, along with prints documenting each in two dimensions. Evoking moon rocks, molten minerals and melting ice cream, these material experiments critique representation by presenting the beholder with impossibly complex and engrossing objets d’art. The cubes stand as evidence of a process, but the means by which they were eroded or melted and just what they are made of is intentionally obscure. The visual and tactile effects displayed are in excess of current digital representation and form-making possibilities.

Accou

Accoutrements, Copulence by Andrew Holder and Benjamin Freyinger

Accoutrements, Corpulence, by Andrew Holder and Benjamin Freyinger, explores the boundary between things that are fat and those that are not, hypothesising that pressure exerted outward on a piece of clothing (an accoutrement) communicates a thing’s fatness. The way these awkwardly erotic, breast-like objects are attached to their support recalls Brazilian artist Ernesto Neto, but lacks his work’s engagement of multiple senses. Several atmospheric renderings accompany the objects themselves, demonstrating the care taken to digitally model these bulbous bodies. What it means for two slender young men to draw fine distinctions between fat and merely rotund is unaddressed.

PeepPeep

Peep Peep by Ellie Abrons

Peep Peep, the work of Ellie Abrons, proposes a series of stilted, textured figures in rich colours, containing mirrored kaleidoscopes that play up the difference between interior and exterior. Abrons’ truly delightful models recall headless, gesticulating Teletubbies, and the perceptual effects produced by her several mirror-boxes are mesmerising. Construction at full scale and in sturdy materials (here represented only in photographs) renders these precisely machined puffballs otherworldly.

Pet Sounds

Pet Sounds by Michael Loverich and Antonio Torres

Michael Loverich and Antonio Torres (of outlandish design firm Bittertang) have presented several experiments in the making of bagpipes. Drawing these incredibly tactile and malleable objects into a disciplinary discussion of form, Bittertang explore the contrasts between soft skin and hard plastic. Though visitors are not encouraged to interact with these objects, the designers foreground the intimate proximity between bagpipe and player. Reminiscent of certain perverse, grotesque sculptural objects by Matthew Barney, these instruments are, of the works exhibited, the most challenging to established definitions of architectural form and function.

Critters

Critters by Angie Co

Each of Angie Co’s Critters consists of two animal profiles cut perpendicularly from a cube of expanded polystyrene foam. Flattened and abstracted, these cartoonish squirrels, rabbits, hawks and elephants intersect to create complex shapes. Viewed straight on, the animals are simple to interpret, but recognition is more challenging from an angle. Ranging in size from a few centimetres to nearly a metre, these strange cubic figures toy with the beholder’s ability to recognise and interpret simple shapes.

Flight pattern

Flight Pattern by David Freeland and Brennan Buck

This project was inspired by tetrahedral kites built by Alexander Graham Bell at the turn of the 20th century. Fragmenting Bell’s rigorous modular geometries into a non-repeating space frame of planes and supports, David Freeland and Brennan Buck have attempted to bring this structural system into the present not by improving its efficiency but through variation. The visual effect of this irregular space frame is amplified by equally aberrant coloured patterning. Disappointingly, it appears far too heavy to fly.

 

Geoweaver by Jason Kelly Johnson

Geoweaver is an example of what Jason Kelly Johnson calls ‘creative architecture machines’, through which he bypasses the limitations of tools and software by making his own. A mobile 3D printer, Geoweaver is propelled by six legs and excretes plastic in patterns with a rotating print head. While the mechanics are impressive, the actual prints seem difficult to control at this early stage of development. Johnson’s work is a bit of an outlier in this exhibit given its emphasis on the process of making, its refreshingly dishevelled products and its deadpan presentation. A video of the Geoweaver at work is available here:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FHnaLbghZ1o

Each designer or design firm has, in effect, developed their own expert practice along with a discrete vocabulary to discuss it, making any synthetic assessment of the exhibition difficult. Yet the group’s ambition was and is to provide a supportive, open platform in which experimental work can be presented without hasty judgement. Not only does the exhibition showcase inventive design research, it also plays host to student workshops, discussions and catered events. Providing a survey of the state of the art on the American scene, the organisers hope to elicit frank conversations concerning nascent speculative discourses. By this measure Possible Mediums is a rousing success.

POSSIBLE MEDIUMS

Website:
www.possiblemediums.com

Curators: Kelly Bair, Kristy Balliet, Adam Fure and Kyle Miller

Contributors: Ellie Abrons, Andrew Atwood, Kelly Bair (curator), Kristy Balliet (curator), Brennan Buck, Angie Co, Justin Diles, David Freeland, Benjamin Freyinger, Adam Fure (curator), Andrew Holder, Mariana Ibañez, Jason Kelly Johnson, Thomas Kelley, Simon Kim, Jimenez Lai, Michael Loverich, Kyle Miller (curator), Anna Neimark, Carrie Norman, Antonio Torres, and Michael Young

Leading Image: Beyond Volume by Kristy Balliet

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